Wales make tortured progress towards Toshack
Even for a country whose passion for a committee room is rivalled only by its love of a good saga, Wales has witnessed its Football Association's tardy progress in appointing a new manager with a mixture of incredulity and downright scorn.
It has been eight weeks since Mark Hughes dropped his bombshell that he would be leaving Wales for Blackburn but the only fall-out noticeable in this time has been the increasingly frustrated rumbling of a Welsh press, who have admirably kept the pot boiling on the barest of embers. At least they have had a hot favourite to warm their hands on, but even the voice that is John Toshack has remained eerily quiet on what the whole country - bar the odd FAW council member - sees as his impending appointment.
It is probably a wise silence, too, because if local reports are to be believed then this Thursday, when the interviewing process mercifully gets under way, Toshack will face an inquisition far more demanding than anything the Spanish ever put him through.
"Oh Gosh, Tosh," the headlines screamed last week when an FAW official revealed that the apparent lack of any Uefa coaching qualifications on the 55-year-old's otherwise impressive CV may discount him from the decision that will eventually be made by the full council on 25 November.
As Toshack has been viewed as "the only man for the job" - a label that is in danger of becoming actually true as Gary Speed, Ian Rush, Dick Advocaat and now Philippe Troussier have all either ruled themselves out or been tempted by better offers - this came as something of a shock. Especially as the other Welsh candidates on the FAW's by-now mythical shortlist are supposed to include Dean Saunders and Brian Flynn, two Welsh stalwarts who can boast all the certificates that are absent from Toshack's lavatory wall but none of the trophies on his mantelpiece. Or, to put it more crudely, as Toshack's mentor, Bill Shankly, used to say: "All the gear. No idea."
Kevin Ratcliffe, the former Wales and Everton captain, summed up the exasperation which has run like the Taff through Wales by saying: "Tell me, where are the qualifications of the FAW councillors? To even question Toshack about his beggars belief. I just hope when they ask John what qualifications he has, the next candidate is not waiting outside. He might be in for a long wait." Indeed. His recitation would include hauling Swansea from the old Fourth to the First Division in five budget-defying years, winning cups and leagues in Spain with Real Sociedad and Real Madrid as well as managing in Portugal, France, Turkey and Italy. The one blot, of course, is his 43-day, one-match reign in Wales a decade ago, but even here the FAW may be forced to admit partial culpability having sold the then part-time position to Toshack as a job it proved not to be.
A high-ranking member of the FAW admitted as much when he spoke to the Independent on Sunday yesterday and also moved to rubbish the claims made by fellow board members that Toshack's dearth of shiny badges would diminish his chances. "There's been a lot of garbage spouted in the last few months and this is as much the FAW's fault as anyone else's for going through our process in such a rigid and secretive manner," he said. "But at the end of the day it is a process and no matter how obvious the choice of John Toshack happens to be we must be seen to being going through the proper channels. This process will be done as fairly as possible and if the fans don't like this then we're sorry, but this is the way our constitution is.
"But I can reassure anyone who's worried that I would be extremely surprised if a constitution of the calibre of Toshack's is weakened by any perceived lack of paperwork and would also have to say that I would be just as surprised if the successful applicant is not Welsh. Despite the claims of Gérard Houllier - who we are supposed to be interviewing but who we probably can't afford anyway - there is a real feeling in Welsh football that we must stand or fall on our own two feet. After all, we have the experiences of another Celtic nation who opted for a foreign manager quite fresh in our mind at the moment."
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